After a largely unimpressive 2-2 start, Pitt showed the Big East it was indeed capable of winning the conference, throttling South Florida last week, 44-17 at Heinz Field. But in their first Big East road game, how will the Panthers fare?
One of Todd Graham's keys to victory is in stopping the run game. On the surface, that shouldn't be too difficult against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are statistically one of the worst rushing teams in the nation, averaging only about 75 yards per contest. Pitt has been pretty decent against the run, but as Notre Dame's Jonas Gray proved, one big play can change everything. Gray, a Notre Dame senior backup with zero career touchdowns, broke through Pitt's defense and ran for a 79-yard touchdown in Pitt's loss to the Irish. The Panthers need to be relentless on defense and make sure to exploit that weakness in Rutgers' offense.
Pitt has had its share of quarterback controversy this year with the ups and downs of Tino Sunseri's play, but Rutgers has some QB drama of its own. After some subpar play by starter Chas Dodd, the Scarlet Knights turned to freshman Gary Nova (who was, if you'll recall, previously a Pitt commit) last week in their double-overtime win at Syracuse. He responded by throwing a touchdown pass and helping Rutgers to victory in their first Big East game. Head coach Greg Schiano hasn't publicly named a starter and might not do so up until the start of the game.
On the other side of the ball, Pitt needs to be sure to keep Ray Graham involved. He should have at least 30 touches in the game, a target of head coach Todd Graham's, and the retooled offensive line needs to open some holes for him. Graham is capable of doing things on his own, but the less he has to work to gain yardage, the more he'll be able to do.
Speaking of Pitt's offensive line, the Panthers appear as if they may again be without Lucas Nix. Nix may be the team's best offensive lineman and as I wrote over at Cardiac Hill this week, even with the extra days of rest, that might not be enough for Nix to recover. If he can't go, look for Ryan Schlieper to make his first career start in his place.
Pitt is only 1-2 against Rutgers in their past three games in New Jersey, but I expect the Panthers to win this one.